Bob Drury in the Himalaya: High and Mighty


Brad Sander flies with the masters on a 50km flight from Bir to Manali. Clip: Bradismyfriend

Bob Drury continues his search for paragliding nirvana in the Indian Himalayas

As 7,000 metres lights up on my altimeter, my climb rate gets even stronger and my wing starts tugging at my hands like an angry dog on a lead. My heart’s already trying to pound its way out of my chest, my head’s spinning like I’m drunk, my nostrils are blocked with ice, and my body’s starting to shake violently with the cold. Welcome back to Zanskar! I’m sure I swore I’d never come here again

The first and last time I was here was in August 1998 with Peter Brinkeby and Rob Whittall. Conditions then varied between highly dangerous and plain lethal. The thermals were stronger than any of us had ever imagined were survivable (or were we just lucky?) and we fought sandstorms, hypoxia and 100-kilometre walkouts before finally escaping.

When we left I mourned the loss of Zanskar from my list of paragliding holiday destinations. It was the most incredible place in the world, but was simply too violent. But time is a brilliant memory eraser. Bad experiences fade quickly, whilst great ones never do, and even whilst I was writing up the story of that trip for Cross Country, I knew one day I’d be back.

It took five years for the memory to fade enough and also for the penny to drop. We’d been there in August during the heat of the summer, so no wonder it was booming!

What would happen if we went there right at the end of the season, in November, once the heat had cooled off and just before the snows came and blocked the passes? Perhaps then we’d find the creme de la creme that I knew was available there and still make it back alive. It could even be quite mellow. I began to convince myself. And so I concocted a frightening plan…

To carry out my plan I would first need a willing accomplice: in Scotland’s Ulric Jessup I found the attributes I required; vast paragliding experience, high altitude mountaineering background, an immunity to the cold, a love of spicy food and, most importantly, no motorcycling experience whatsoever.

“Can you ride a motorbike Ulric?”

“Well, I know how to make one go!”

Candidate accepted!

If high-altitude paragliding in the Himalayas wasn’t thrilling and dangerous enough; motorcycling the 600 kilometres across the north Indian plains and over the Himalayas to Keylong should be. It might even be the most dangerous bit…

The full story complete with Bob and Ulrics stunning pictures of Zanskar from a hypoxically high 7,200 metres are in the latest issue, XC93 ’High and Mighty’ on sale now.

Also featuring in this issue are; the second part of ace photographer Jerome Maupoint’s Moroccan oddysey, flying from the Aguille du Midi, the usual bar room tales of mayhem and woe in ’There I Was’ this time by the master of the genre himself, Dave Snowdon, plus all our regular features.

This special high altitude issue closes with the final feature in our Seven Wonders series, where else but the biggest baddest mountain range there is, the Himalayas.

• Got news? Send it to us at news@xcmag.com

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